Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Current food situation in Niger: the official word

The map below (from AID sources) illustrates some of the text beneath it (info recently sent to Peace Corps volunteers). 700,000 people may need food aid this year (see #7), which makes it a good year; last year the figure was 2.9 million people in need of aid.
Points #4, #9, #10, and #11 seem especially worrisome.

Estimated food security conditions, 3rd Quarter 2008 (July-September)
US AID /Famine Early Warning Systems
Green: Generally Food Secure
Yellow: Moderately Food Insecure
Orange Highly Food Insecure
Red: Extremely Food Insecure
Black: Famine
Gray: No Data


1. Summary. All signs indicate that Niger will have a bumper annual harvest of major food staples in September-October 2008,representing an unprecedented fourth consecutive good annual harvest for Niger. Pasture conditions are excellent and no major outbreaks of crop pests have been reported. Crop conditions in Nigeria and other countries in the sub-region also appear to be favorable; therefore, added pressures on Niger food stocks will be minimal.
Niger will not need any emergency food aid over the coming year, but will need help to reconstitute its national food reserves and to continue programs to address food needs of vulnerable groups and chronic child malnutrition. There will also be a need to address the problem of insufficient imported rice for urban consumers.

2. The rainy season has generally been exceptional and, even if rains stopped now, there is enough moisture in the soil in most areas to permit a good harvest of the major food staples (millet, sorghum and cowpeas). If like last year the rains cease in mid-September, the harvest will still be better than the good 2007 harvest. If like in 2006 the rains continue into early October, Niger could have a record harvest. On the other hand, too much rain and continued heavy rainfall will make it difficult to harvest. Already the harvest of millet and sorghum is occurring in a number of places across Niger.

3. Flooding in some areas has caused some crop damage and, as of the end August 2008, the loss of shelter for almost 40,000 people. Pasture conditions throughout Niger are reported as excellent without any major outbreak of crop pests. Niger appears to be on the path to a fourth consecutive good annual harvest. This may be the first time in modern history that Niger has enjoyed four good annual harvests in a row. These good harvests and livestock conditions will make life better for rural inhabitants (85 percent of the population), contribute positively to Niger's GDP growth, and reduce budgetary and political stress on the Government of Niger (GON). Furthermore, full household granaries are the best insurance for the maintenance of peace and stability in the rural zones.

4. The food situation of urban inhabitants, who depend heavily on the consumption of imported rice, is, however, worrisome. The cost of imported rice on the open market is at a record high and stocks of rice are at an all-time low. The GON tried to procure on the international market 10,000 megatons (MT) of rice but was only able to obtain 3,000 MT, which it is selling at a subsidized price (35 percent less than market price) during the holy month of Ramadan that began September 1. Given that Niger consumes about 20,000 MT of rice per month, this is a relatively small quantity of rice. It is an open and troublesome question as to how Niger will obtain enough rice in the coming months to feed its urban population.

5. Related to this rice shortage problem was the receipt on July 21 of an official request from the GON for 60,000 MT of rice and 15,000 MT of wheat over a three-year period, beginning this year. This request was made within the framework of the USDA's Food for Progress program. This request follows the signing of an agreement in September 2006 for the same kind of program. Under this previous Food for Progress program, 12,000 MT of sorghum and 5,000 MT of rice (for monetization) were provided. The 12,000 MT of sorghum was used over the past few months for free distribution to the most vulnerable groups. The 5,000 MT of rice was sold to private traders over a year ago and the proceeds generated are being used for food security activities. Concerned GON authorities will need to satisfy some outstanding reporting and accountability requirements for USDA before tackling another USDA program.

6. It was planned that some rice be provided by the end of the year under three new PL 480, Title II Multi-Year Assistance Programs (MYAPs) that USAID signed in August 2008 with participating U.S. non-governmental organizations. These three- to five-year MYAPs have an estimated value of over US$70 million and cover all regions
of Niger. The main commodity to be monetized under the MYAPs is rice and 7,000 to 9,000 MT of rice were to be shipped to Niger by December, but the first effort to procure rice was has not been successful as not enough rice could be sourced. It is still uncertain when rice will be available for these MYAPs and, when sourced, how much can be procured with existing budgets. Higher rice prices will mean lower quantities of rice for the MYAP programs and it may be some time before FY 2009 funding is available for these programs.

7. Notwithstanding the favorable prospects for good annual harvest in Niger, there remain pockets of low rainfall in Niger and agricultural production growth has difficulty keeping up with Niger's fast annual population growth rate of 3.4 percent (or about 400,000 additional people per year to feed). Niger is reaching the limits of the quantity of food it can produce and in the future, even in a good rainfall year, it will not be able to produce enough to feed its population. Current projections show that up to 700,000 Nigeriens (about 5 percent of Niger's 14 million people) will need food aid to one degree or another over the coming year because of poor harvests in some geographic areas. Nevertheless, this is a huge improvement over last year when 2.9 million people were estimated to be in need of food aid.

8. As of August 27, 2008, Niger's national food reserves contained about 40,000 MT of cereals (down from 77,000 MT last February). If current reserve utilization plans are adhered to, this total stock level will fall to about 3,000 MT by the end of September. In the July to September period, 15,000 MT has been utilized by the GON, with donor concurrence, for free distribution to food vulnerable groups and 15,000 for sale at subsidized prices to those in need. The GON goal is to have 100,000 MT in stock in case of poor annual harvest and, thus, its plan is to begin local purchases of cereals
in October following the harvest to reconstitute its food reserves. It plans to buy on the local market 20,000 MT to 30,000 MT of millet and sorghum in the October 2008 to March 2009 period. Currently, the GON does not have sufficient funds to make these purchases and it will be calling for donor contributions for as much as US$12 million in additional funding for these purchases. These reserves are small compared to Niger's cereals consumption rate of 220,000 MT per month.

9. Niger's child malnutrition levels remains among the worst in the world in spite of four good annual harvests in a row. Niger’s low child nutrition levels are not unrelated to a persistent high poverty levels and a consistent rank among the lowest five countries on the UNDP human development index (HDI). Child feeding practices, including breast-feeding, and dietary diversification need much improvement. A challenge to progress in these areas is low female literacy rate of less than 15 percent.

10. Other sobering development statistics for Niger include facts such as 40 percent of its children are stunted and almost 70 percent of the population is less than 25 years of age. The youthful structure of Niger's population and its fast population growth rate represent daunting development challenges. The population growth rate is out-stripping advances in economic and development growth and will not change unless the high average fertility rate of 7.4 children per woman of child-bearing age is substantially lowered.

11. Nutritional surveys led by UNICEF in the June-July period indicate some slight improvements in child nutrition levels among children under five years of age, but global acute malnutrition (GAM) remains alarmingly high by international standards and in this recent survey the overall average GAM reported was 10.7 percent (versus 11.2 percent a year ago). Extrapolation of survey data indicates that over 260,000 children of this age group suffer from much higher levels of malnutrition. Most alarming are survey results for the Region of Zinder that show an emergency level GAM rate of 15.7 percent. The survey also reports GAM rates much higher for children under three years of age. Also, in the regions of Diffa and Zinder the child mortality rate was over the emergency rate of 2 deaths per 10,000 children per day. This survey also reported that only 4.4 percent of mothers are exclusively breast-feeding their babies during the first six months.

12. Comment. Nothing can be better for Niger and its people than a good harvest, but a good harvest alone does not eliminate hunger and malnutrition nor develop over the long term a country. Much investment is needed in Niger's rural infrastructure and agricultural sector to achieve the food production and household income increases Niger needs to feed its people and to improve its rank on the UNDP HDI list. Investment in irrigation schemes that make Niger more drought proof and less dependent on rainfed agriculture is essential. At the same time more diversified ways of creating wealth need to be found to benefit a much larger segment of the population. As long as the vast majority of Nigeriens remain dependent on subsistence agriculture, sustainable development advances will remain elusive. The main
development aims should target less hunger and higher incomes. High levels of good governance, technical competency, managerial capacity and stability are needed to achieve those aims. ##

Niamey, September 3, 2008

For an update on this post, go here.


JessicaBliss said...

Hi Mom! It's Jessica! Wow, this blog is great. You are great! Thank you for making all of this information available to everyone; without you, no one would have any idea...Just want to let you know that I finally got to see it, and I love it, and I really appreciate your work. Plus, I've never commented on anyone's blog before, so it's about time. Talk to you soon! XOXOXO Jessica
ps I guess that the aforementioned "everyone" can also read this message, in which case: hey to you to! Thank you for checking up on me. If you have time, send me a letter- I write back to each one. Take care!

Merry said...

Kerry, you may know that I've been on Weight Watchers for over a year now - very successfully too! WW has a new challenge starting - at the end of the next 6 weeks, WW will send the equivalent of 1 pound of food, up to $100,000,000, for every pound we lose to 2 food organizations. One in the States, one overseas. I sure wish there was a way I could specify Niger!!! Just the thought that I will lose weight so that others can eat is the best incentive I could ever hope for!!! I am so proud of all the hard work Jessica is doing. No wonder her village loves her! Is there anything that can be done about the cut in $$$??
Take care, Merry